A new study of recidivism among former prison inmates shows a significant drop in repeat offenses by ex-convicts released under a special "re-entry" program here in San Diego County.
The taxpayers, according to the SANDAG study released Thursday, also got more 'bang for the bucks' from the program.
That re-entry program ran for five years ending June 30th, under State Senate Bill 618.
It took in carefully assessed, non-violent felons who were given intensive community support in getting housing, drug treatment and jobs.
Results indicate they fared far better ‘on the outside’ than regular parolees.
"About half of the comparison group -- individuals who were just under straight parole before -- went back to prison, compared to about a third of the guys who got the increased services,” said Cynthia Burke, director of criminal justice research for the San Diego Assn. of Governments.
“And you take the cost of the prison, you take the cost of the program,” Burke continued in an interview Thursday, “you still save $10 million over the five years when there were about a thousand people in the program."
The upshot of the study is that prison inmates can't just be paroled, left to their own devices, and expected not to commit more crimes.
Rehabilitation experts such as Scott Silverman, whose “Second Chance” programs helped restore thousands of ex-cons to society, say there’s greater potential for success stories with re-entry counseling, monitoring and programs that provide pathways to law-abiding lifestyles.
"They're getting jobs, they're going back to school, and families are getting back together again,” said Silverman, now a motivational speaker and life coach who recently founded withtoughlove.com. “Crime is continually down, and recidivism is as well."
But that script could soon flip.
Under last year's Assembly Bill 109, 'low-level' felons are being sentenced to jails that are nearing capacity.
Early-release prison inmates are starting to inflate local probation caseloads.
AB 109 doesn't have the funding or framework that SB 618 did.
Even so, authorities say 618's results here in San Diego offer a roadmap to the best practices possible.
"We're going to look and see how we can take that template and fit it into what we have,” says District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “And I think we're better prepared than anyone in the state because of that program.
Meantime, San Diego County Sheriff's Dept. officials say the influx of newly sentenced felons into county jails, and early-release prisoners into local probation supervision – around 2,000 in the nine months since AB 109 took effect -- is tracking pretty much as projected.
According to Burke, preliminary crime statistics for 2012 are trending slightly higher than last year's three-decade 'lows', countywide – but still under 2010's numbers.
"We know what works, but you also need to be good stewards of taxpayers' money,” Burke says.
“And what this [re-entry program] showed, unequivocally, is that it does pay off to provide services to address underlying needs. If not, it's that 'revolving door'. And we don't want the revolving door any more. We can't afford it."